Blog Entries: 1 to 10 of 11
As genealogists, we have all become familiar with the axioms that ‘spelling is fluid’ and that handwritten documents from the past can be ‘extremely challenging’ – if not impossible – to decipher. With the help of Pam Vestal’s informative presentation about overcoming difficult handwriting – and in my case, the purchase of two recommended books – we can now employ her thirteen strategies to help us successfully overcome the unreadable-writing dilemma.
The birth record of my eighth great-grandfather is below. Thomas Lippincott was born to Freedom and Mary Lippincott on the 28th of the tenth month in the year one thousand six hundred eighty and six. The document also included a list of the various witnesses consisting of family members and members of their Friends Meeting. Obviously, there is a discrepancy in the spelling of the surname (remember axiom #1), the extra ‘e’ on year and born, the double ‘t’ in witnesses, the use of superscript, and the flourish of the capital T in Thomas. As Ms. Vestal instructed us at our August meeting, this is an excellent example of ‘secretary hand’ penmanship that was in common use in colonial America. And, it illustrates why we need to become familiar with various forms of writing. Otherwise, we may misinterpret vital clues in our ancestral research, leaving us with more questions than answers.
Pam explained that knowing the difference between today’s alphabet and what we see in very old documents is crucial when we begin transcribing what appear to be chicken scratches into understandable text. Using her step-by-step strategies combined with her list of historical handwriting resources, websites and manuals along with persistence and patience, you may be delighted with what you can achieve.
How many times have we all hoped to find that one elusive document to fill the gaping hole in our family research? In the past we wrote letters, drove long distances, and planned trips around the need to break through those obstinate genealogical brick walls. Today—thanks to digitization—much of how we research can be accomplished at home or at a library on a computer. Which leads me to thank Tamara Hallo for her in-depth presentation about the incredible quantity of resources available at FamilySearch.org. I hope to put her excellent tips to work very soon on my own stubborn brick wall ancestors.
For me, the key takeaway from Saturday’s program was that we’re all underusing this valuable collection of historical records. Tamara walked us through, step by step, on the various ways we can dig deep for those digitized gems scattered throughout the millions of records in the FamilySearch holdings. Whether we search by name, collection, location or catalog, we have at our fingertips (literally), access to historical records, indexes, family trees, family history and genealogy books, research guides to help us become better researchers, and expert help from the FamilySearch community. And, the best part is that it is FREE! Yes, FREE!
Over the years, FamilySearch.org has become one of my go-to genealogy research websites. Although I have memberships in Ancestry and MyHeritage, FamilySearch is still one of my favorites for two reasons: it has extensive (and continually growing) digital records and it’s FREE. (Is there an echo in here?) FamilySearch.org is where I found the birth, marriage, and death records for my father’s German ancestors all the way back to Johann Martin Weis Sr. my seventh great-grandfather from Steinbach, Baden-Württemberg. It’s also where I found my Swedish great-grandfather, Jonas Ivar Östman’s naturalization papers. These are just two examples of the information I’ve found that has given me not only a deeper sense of my relationship to my historical family but has encouraged me to learn about the historical context in which they lived.
FamilySearch.org is a hidden gem; an underutilized resource, and many genealogists (especially beginners) don’t realize what a genealogical gold-mine of records await them. You never know where your genealogy research journey will take you or whom you’ll discover; FamilySearch.org is a great place to start your journey. If you have genealogical questions, find the answers you are looking for by using the tips and insights demonstrated by Ms. Hallo. If you find yourself needing a bit more direction, contact Tamara at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do you ever wonder about your life and how different it might have turned out if you had been given a different name? Would you have been more personable and confident, or more shy and nerdy? Do our first, middle, or nicknames place us among the “in crowd” or make us the last to be chosen for the team? Do our names, both given and inherited, form and influence us or do we fashion ourselves regardless of the monikers we were given?
The focus of Rick Frohling’s talk about the WHERE, WHY, and HOW of names, the importance of understanding the story behind our and our ancestor’s first, middle and nicknames, gave us an important tool to use when exploring our family history. Names can link the past to the present, represent trends, popular culture, historical events or people, family traditions, or just be a means of connecting a person to their origins.
In my family we have some fairly obvious naming practices, especially on my paternal Weis and Doerges branches. My nephew, Walter Charles Weis is the fourth to bear that name. In order to know who you are referencing, my grandfather was called Walter, my father was Walt, my brother is called Chuck by family and friends but Charles by colleagues, and Charlie is my nephew’s identifier. If Charlie has a son and he names him Walter Charles Weis V, how will we identify him?
As an example of confusing naming precedents, I had only to look at the Doerges side of my family tree and how, for several generations it was common practice to name every first-born son Robert. I have a great-grandfather, step great-grandfather, uncle and numerous cousins all with the exact same name! At last count, I had eight Robert Doergeses in my family tree.
Middle names can help to untangle repetitive naming practices like those above, but they can also change, as in the case when a married woman uses her maiden name as a middle name or initial. My mother-in-law uses the first initial of her maiden name as her middle name because she dislikes her actual middle name. Besides, everyone knows that the sole purpose of a child’s middle name is so they can tell when they’re really in trouble! I always knew I was in hot water when my mother called me Kristina Jean instead of my nickname, Kristy, which I outgrew by first grade. Speaking of nicknames—which can be diminutives or descriptives—my grandfather, father and brother all bore the same nickname, Boots, a term referring to a rookie fireman.
How can focusing on names and their various spellings, history, and meaning help us from a genealogical point of view? Rick’s point is that you need to use every aspect of an individual’s name, including given, middle and nickname, to be sure that you find all the available information in your ancestor’s paper trail.
So, what is the story behind your name? What does your name mean? How many variations in spelling can you find? Is your name found in previous generations or are you the first to carry your name? Check out some of the websites listed in Rick’s handout to play the “name game” and learn about the evolution of names, and how that can help you in researching your family history.
I would hazard to guess that almost 99.9 % of the time, after completing my beginning genealogy presentation, I am invariably asked, “Where is the best place to put my genealogy research? Ancestry or FamilySearch?” At this point in my presentation, I discuss the differences between an online genealogical tree and personal genealogical software and the benefits derived from a combination of the two. Many of the attendees at beginning genealogy presentations have heard of Ancestry, but few if any have heard of RootsMagic, Family Tree Maker, or Legacy Family Tree, let alone any of the other four desktop genealogy software programs available today. At this point in my talk, I show screen shots of the big three software programs and follow up with examples of online trees at Ancestry, MyHeritage, and FamilySearch. Sometimes the visuals clarify things, and sometimes I see glazed-over eyes. This is where Rick Crume’s presentation about the strengths and weaknesses of the various genealogical research organizational methods will come in handy at future beginner classes.
Rick Crume’s informative talk about Tree Keeping: Software vs. Online Trees posed the question, “Should you store your family history research in genealogy software, an online family tree or some combo of the two?” The easy answer is that software offers the best tools for recording information, documenting sources and creating various charts, and online trees encourage collaboration, allow for easier researching, organizing and sharing of your family history. Ideally, a combination of the two systems provides the greatest flexibility. Additionally, with the increased interest in DNA research, having an online tree can help in finding matches to confirm or expand your lineage. One of the best developments in the field of high-tech genealogy is the ability of Family Tree Maker and RootsMagic to work with Ancestry Trees and FamilySearch Family Tree, allowing us to take advantage of hints from other databases and connect with others doing similar research.
When I started to work on my family history in earnest, I realized that trying to keep everything organized in three-ring binders was labor intensive and difficult to organize and update. That’s when I decided to buy a computer program for collecting, collating and processing new information as it was found. Bruce Buzbee’s 1992 Family Origins from Parsons Technology was my entrance into the world of computerized genealogy software. Then came RootsMagic3 in 2003 and now RootsMagic7. I have my tree on Ancestry and MyHeritage, and take advantage of the hints from FindMyPast, Ancestry, MyHeritage and FamilySearch. By combining software and online trees, I’ve got the best of all worlds! And, if you are serious about your genealogy research, you owe it to yourself to take advantage of the best tools available for successful tree keeping.
Christine Cohen’s presentation about what can be found in will and probate records reminded me of when my husband and I traveled east in 2005 to see the “Big Apple” and to visit the town of Cairo (pronounced like the syrup, not like the city in Egypt), Greene County, New York where my Weed ancestors settled in 1790 after leaving Connecticut. After minimal success in locating records in Cairo, the town clerk suggested that we visit the Vedder Research Library at the Greene County Historical Society building in Coxsackie about ten miles northeast of Cairo and, although we never located any Weed family documents, we were fortunate to find a multi-paged, handwritten, last will and testament for Charles Sisson.
Charles, a lifelong bachelor who passed away in 1895, was the younger brother of my second great-grandmother, Rhoda Henrietta (Sisson) Weed, and his will provided information that proved to be extremely beneficial in researching my Weed, Sisson, Coleman, Adams, Winans, DeForges, and Lake family branches. At the time of the will’s discovery, I had no knowledge of five of these family names, and while it took several years of searching, I finally was able to make the connections and confirm my earlier assumptions about how we were all connected. The detailed accounting in Charles’s will of siblings, their children, and locations of residence linked me to census records, birth, death, and marriage records and, in some cases, military pension records. Charles’s will contained a treasure-trove of clues.
Saturday’s talk by Christine Cohen on “Probate: Where There’s a Will or Not” got me thinking about finding other will and probate records for the various twigs and branches of my family tree, especially those where records are scarce. There was one of my family lines with the somewhat common surname of Franklin, and this has led to frustration and confusion about which Franklin branch was mine. At the conclusion of Christine’s presentation on how to find and use will and probate records, I immediately went online to FamilySearch.org and did a deep dive into North Carolina Wills from 1792-1827 and found my ancestor, James Franklin’s will dated the 31st of October 1818. Although he never names his “dearly beloved wife,” he does list all of his children, including my fourth great-grandfather, Sherrod Franklin, who he calls “my well beloved son,” and lists his eldest son, William, as his executor. The witnesses were Thomas Nixon and John Marsh. They are next on my list to investigate to see how they might be connected to the Franklin family.
Christine’s well-organized presentation has opened up a valuable avenue of research. I can’t wait to see what I will discover in the days, weeks, and months ahead.
(Thanks to our Past President, Christine Cohen, for filling in for our current President, Kristina Newcomer, in completing the “President’s Pen” for April 2021.)
WAGS had the honor of welcoming back Dr. Penny Walters, via Zoom, for our March meeting. Her topic was “Mixing DNA results with Your Paper Trail.” Penny used wonderful visuals to explain how DNA and your traditional paper research can be combined to come to a logical conclusion with DNA matches, consanguinity, relationship predictors, GEDMatch, triangulation, and ethnicity. Her website is https://www.searchmypast.co.uk/.
Penny explained how to visualize your DNA results using a “Victorian Sponge Cake.” You are made up of the ingredients in the cake recipe and all your ancestors contribute these ingredients to blend together to make you. Therefore, your DNA matches get your shared ingredients but in mixed and various amounts. She suggested this site for more details about recombination:
Penny expanded on the many useful tools on www.GEDMatch.com such as the chromosome browser to see for what specific chromosome there is a match, the “Gen” feature to determine how many generations back you and your match overlap, and the “One-To-One Autosomal DNA Comparison” tool. These are all FREE to use.
Keep in mind that the ethnicity results are going to vary from company to company. Each one has their own reference panels. Penny shared her ethnicity results that varied greatly over the years as these companies get more test takers and fine tune their scientific methods. Penny went from 94% to 58% Irish in a span of five years. In addition, these DNA testing companies are now able to narrow down to the county level for many countries. So, keep this in mind when you review your results.
Plus, when you get those possible relationships reports, be open minded. The centimorgans number fall into a range. Therefore, a 4th to 6th cousin could be a 3rd cousin once removed. Penny mentioned one of the best resources for genetic genealogy is the Blaine Bettinger website https://thegeneticgenealogist.com/.
I am so excited to be nominated as the new Program Chair for WAGS for 2021-2023. I have many ideas on engaging speakers to expand your genealogy knowledge.
Please be safe and well. I truly hope we can meet again in person soon.
Sometimes all it takes is for someone to remind us that there are different avenues we can explore when seeking the answers to the puzzles in our genealogical pursuits.
Lisa Lisson’s enlightening presentation about finding and using uncommon “out of the box” sources to make those all-important breakthroughs, encouraged us to step out of our comfort zone of traditional resources and explore the world beyond conventional records.
As genealogists, we are very familiar with the usual “suspects” – census and vital records, wills and deeds, etc. – which can lead to the same frustrating results time after time, especially when documents are incomplete, scarce or non-existent. Lisa suggested that we try a different approach by focusing on our ancestors’ social history to fill in the gaps. Instead of relying solely on federal, state, or county records, expand your survey to include all areas of their daily lives, including – but not limited to – religious affiliation, education, occupation, social standing, fraternal orders, and military service. Take advantage of special collections, such as those in ArchiveGrid and digital collections at state and local libraries for those nuggets of personal history just waiting for us to find. Some of my favorite places to search are city directories and voter lists, especially as a way to trace the movement of my ancestors between census enumerations. Don’t overlook newspaper searches for items other than obituaries, such as legal proceedings, wedding announcements, arrest records, sport scores, and community involvement. Poor house, asylum, military retirement homes, and orphanage records are other valuable resources not to be overlooked.
Albert Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” By expanding your genealogical focus and thinking outside the usual framework of research, you may be able to break the cycle of “insanity” and those brick walls to fill in the blanks of your ancestors’ lives.
The December WAGS newsletter headline asked, “WHAT IS YOUR LATEST WAGS FAMILY TALE?” Six contributors volunteered to share their stories of discovery, heritage, emigration, shady characters, and genealogical twists and turns. This was our first virtual holiday gathering for the annual members’ Show & Tell program and I want to thank everyone who participated in making it an ‘online’ success.
First up was Rick Frohling who told us about his East Frisian ancestors in “The ‘Tea’ on my Ostfreisen Heritage.” We learned about the geographical setting of the Frisian empire, its ancient northwestern-Germanic and Scandinavian heritage, the difference between the low-German and high-German language, and how to make and drink Frisian tea with rock sugar and cream.
Next, we heard from Bonnie Morris in “The Dilemma of the Two David K. Walls.” Beginning with a photograph, Bonnie began her search to discover which David was which! Her research led her to conclude that the two David K. Walls were second cousins who had been given the identical name thus making it difficult to determine which David was hers. A true genealogical challenge that has happened to many of us.
A new member, but long-time genealogist, Gerhard Schaefer, shared his story about discovering family connections in Germany and America when he began researching his cousin Hugo Sternkopf and his clandestine journey as a teenager to join a relative in Chicago, arriving in 1912. Gerhard’s tale was called, “What Goes Around Will Really Come Around.” His research into Hugo has expanded his family tree exponentially and allowed him to collaborate with relatives both here and abroad.
Victoria Jacobs’s ‘work-in-progress’ was called, “The Mess with Uncle Jesse.” Her story involved two branches of her family, the Hamiltons and the Tatums, who have a long history in Fayette County, Mississippi. It seems that Uncle Jesse was charged with murdering his wife, stood trial, and was found not guilty, but the story didn’t end there. Through patience and perseverance, Victoria found court documents, connected with distant relatives, and rounded out the story. Her suggestion – never give up, be patient, and look for the story behind the headlines!
I jumped in next and told the story of “Searching for Caroline Boecker,” my paternal 2nd great-grandmother who seemed to disappear from the record books! Who were her parents and why couldn’t I find her in the 1870 or 1880 censuses? My genealogical puzzle was solved when I realized that her surname had many different spellings, Baker being the most common, and that led me to her parents, Christian Heinrich Boeker and Sophia Gusewelle, German immigrants who settled in Madison County, Illinois, whose surname morphed into Baker over the years.
Our last presenter was Christine Cohen who presented the “Curious Case of Alpheus Freeman” of Middlesex County, New Jersey. Through newspaper, court, real estate and probate records Christine was able to round out his life, but many questions remained. Why did he have so many creditors, why wasn’t he named in his father’s will, and why were the courts still adjudicating his land holdings seventy years after his death? Alpheus’s tale is a genealogical mystery.
When I first started collecting information about my ancestors, my only sources were my parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. In the beginning, I was only interested in the names and brief histories as told to me by the various members of my family with facts, errors and myths all jumbled together. How was I to resolve the many conflicts inherent in the stories, timelines and individuals? I didn’t begin to sort it all out until many years later, and by then I realized that I needed to begin recording my findings and citing my sources to prove that I had found my actual ancestors.
Because of my interest in genealogy, my parents gave me two old books that had been handed down through each side of the family. An 1878 Swedish bible belonging to my maternal grandaunt, Alfie Hotilia Östman and an 1853 German prayer book belonging to an individual named John Barnhardt Laberman. These tangible links to my family history were beacons in my search for these relatives and their origins. Written inside the prayer book was a clue, a starting point: “Grandfather’s prayer book, my mother’s father, John Barnhardt Laberman, born in Essen Germany, came to America on honeymoon.” Now I had a name and a location, but who was the source of this information? Who wrote this clue? How was I connected to not only the writer, but to John? This is where my journey of discovery began and this is when I found out how important sources are in proving that my research is valid and can be trusted.
Saturday’s presentation on citing our sources by Mark Cross emphasized the importance of validating our research with clarity, conciseness, completeness and confidence. Mark outlined the purpose and fundamentals of genealogical documentation by having us answer the following questions:
Who is the author of the source?
What kind of source is it?
When was the source created?
Where is the source located?
How is the source stored?
Why should we document our work? Without proper documentation perfectly accurate and totally false family history can look the same. Good sources support our research and citations describe our sources. They complement and complete each other. Documentation lies at the heart of trustworthy genealogy and shows that a family’s history correctly reflects events, identities and relationships.
After my ‘reasonably exhaustive search’ into John Barnhardt Laberman, I can reliably conclude that he was my paternal third great-grandfather and the writer of the clue was my great-grandmother, Bessie May (Glover) Doerges, who is accurately cited as a primary source.
I can’t speak for every genealogist out there, but one of the strongest drives for pursuing family research is to expand our knowledge of our family lineage. Some people strive to collect as many names as they can in a subtle game of one-up manship, while others are on a quest to clarify their heritage, link themselves to an historical person, or delve into their ancestor’s personal lives through stories. No matter the driving force behind our need to devote hours, days, weeks, months and years to the ultimate game of hide-and-seek, there is always that potential ancestor out there somewhere just waiting to be discovered and gathered onto the welcoming branches of our family tree. As for me, I believe the aim of genealogical research is to establish connections, not only with our predecessors but also with living relatives, and one of the ways to achieve this goal may be through the use of collaborative BIG family trees.
Saturday’s excellent presentation by Randy Seaver covered all the basics about collaborative trees, such as the What, Why and Where of constructing a ‘worldwide’ tree through the individual efforts of genealogists everywhere. Two main goals of collaborative big trees are to make those all-important connections and find those elusive potential ancestors.
Participating in WikiTree, Geni World Tree, FamilySearch Family Tree or Ancestry can be one way to share your research with a larger community of like-minded genealogists and preserve your family knowledge for future generations by adding what you know about your ancestors to the millions of individuals in these collaborative trees. Like many large undertakings, they all have their pluses and minuses and all seem to require a certain degree of time and patience when uploading information or dealing with errors.
According to Randy, the benefits of preserving your research, helping others, finding sources, links, common ancestors, and DNA matches, can outweigh the drawbacks, especially when the goal is to connect my tree with your tree to become our tree.